July 31, 2002
July 29, 2002
Kenny Williams' strategy with Kenny Lofton wasn't unsound, at least the initial part of it. Sign a veteran down on his luck for a low price and a one-year contract. If you contend with him, that's great, you have the financial flexibility to help yourself down the stretch. If you don't, he's cheap and therefore interesting to other contenders. If he doesn't hit, then you didn't spend all that much money.
So far so good, and then the Sox don't contend. Okay, so you swap him for talent you can use, right? Well, sort of. Now that the Sox don't matter, Williams dumps Lofton, but does he add much in the way of talent?
To give Kenny Williams a break, he has to deal with what is becoming a tougher, smarter trade market. There are enough GMs who realize that when you're getting a two-month rental, both terms--it's only two months, and it's only a rental--matter. It's also worth noting that it's only Kenny Lofton. He's a middle-of-the-pack center fielder offensively, and his defense isn't anywhere close to what it used to be. He's hitting just .259/.348/.418, and while that may be an enormous improvement on Tsuyoshi Shinjo, that's not the standard; the question is whether or not two months of Kenny Lofton is that valuable. You can't hope to score a superstar with a 35-year-old center fielder of dubious value, because there aren't that many grade-A prospects in the first place.
So what did Williams get? Nothing really outstanding. Felix Diaz is 22 and not 21, yet another skinny, "short" (he's listed at 6'1") right-handed Dominican on whom the inevitable overdrawn Pedro Martinez comparisons get deposited. (Get used to it: short right-handers from south of the border are Pedro, lefties who don't throw hard are Tom Glavine, lefties who can't dent bread are Jamie Moyer. They're all likable archetypes, and shorthand is easier than discussing real results.) Anyway, Diaz throws hard but lacks effective breaking stuff. He missed time to arm soreness in 2001, and suffered an ankle injury this year. The ankle injury isn't a bad thing, since it spared his arm some. In 12 starts covering 60 innings at Shreveport, he's given up 22 runs, 54 hits, and posted an adequate 48/23 strikeout-to-walk ratio; he's also something of a flyball pitcher so far. Diaz is the key player in the deal; Brian Meaux is just another soft-tossing lefty reliever in A ball; he could be useful, or he could be as memorable as Mike Juhl.
Overall, it's not a particularly great package, but Kenny Lofton isn't a great player anymore. Would it be sweeter if Williams could have landed Jerome Williams or Kurt Ainsworth or Jesse Foppert? Of course it would be, but apparently Brian Sabean doesn't want to deal any of them. This may well have been the best deal that the Giants were willing to offer, and the question is whether it really makes any sense to make the deal. If draft pick compensation for free agents disappears from the new CBA, maybe then it makes sense to get what you can, but Diaz is pretty nondescript among the pitching that has come through the White Sox system so far. He's a flyer for a dump, and that's pretty weak, even for Kenny Williams.
The bad news is that the Indians have to take on Terry Mulholland for what should be the last few innings of his career. Along with Jaret Wright and Charles Nagy, that's an ugly trio for whom there are no tomorrows.
Although Ricardo Rodriguez is the better-known prospect, the interesting element of the deal may be Francisco Cruceta. Pitching in the Sally League is a long way from doing it in the majors, but Cruceta has posted a 2.80 ERA, allowing only 98 hits and 34 walks in 112 2/3 innings while striking out 111. He throws hard with decent command, and he changes speeds and throws his breaking stuff for strikes. Rodriguez is the better prospect by reputation, but he's 24 instead of 22, had to pitch in extended spring training after not looking so hot in camp, and his strikeout rate has dropped considerably this season. He's struck only 51 hitters in 79 2/3 innings this season between Jacksonville and Las Vegas, a drop from his strikeout-per-inning (or better) rate in the previous two years of his career. It's worth wondering if he's hurt, but he's still allowing only about three runs per nine, and giving up just 18 walks looks pretty good. We'll have to see, but this is a better package than what they got for Chuck Finley, and it's for a much more easily replaceable commodity.
The other happy development is getting Matt Lawton back over the weekend, giving the Indians an outfield of Lawton in right field, Milton Bradley in center field, and Ben Broussard and Chris Magruder in left. That's three guys with futures and a good veteran hitter, and if the Tribe winds up keeping Lawton, an outfit they should feel good about going into 2003. There are contending teams with worse situations.
Released RHP T. J. Mathews; recalled RHP Jim Mann from New Orleans. [7/28]
It's fascinating that this happened after Drayton McLane had the gall to plead poverty earlier this month, especially since if there was any poverty it was of the self-imposed variety. I mean, sure, T.J. Mathews deserved cutting, but this is the franchise that made the mistake of handing him a guaranteed contract last winter. Now McLane is guaranteed to have to pay him, work stoppage or no work stoppage. What happened to the bottom line?
Jim Mann will pitch just as well as Mathews can, for better or for worse. The lesson isn't one of in-season self-improvement, but of offseason investments and roster management. The Astros have already blown seven months of roster time on an extremely replaceable middle reliever, and they've spent a million bucks to do it.
Acquired RHP Paul Shuey from the Indians for LHP Terry Mulholland and RHPs Ricardo Rodriguez and Francisco Cruceta. [7/28]
Paul Shuey is probably the ultimate expensive pickup for the Dodgers. Sure, it looks good, insofar as he's their second- or third-best reliever if he's healthy. Shuey has trouble staying healthy for any length of time, and he's also under contract for the next two years, and not cheaply. Although the Dodgers get some savings by moving Terry Mulholland's contract and, better yet, help themselves out by getting his performance off of their roster, this was expensive. Ricardo Rodriguez and Francisco Cruceta are a decent pair of young hurlers, and Shuey is only a nice middle reliever. This one has a good chance of coming back to haunt them, much more than the Tyler Houston trade does.
The Yankees' problem is summed up by this move. Randy Choate is semi-useful as a second lefty in the pen, but instead of keeping him around, the Yankees have to make space for their latest celebrity bimbo. Sterling Hitchcock is sort of the Yankees' answer to Elizabeth Berkeley. It isn't cheap having him around, and what's he good for? If you had to run with Showgirls for 162 nights, you think you'd end up a winner? Hitchcock is about as handy, just as high maintenance, terribly expensive, and the results he delivers aren't competitive. Signing him might have made for nice eye candy, but as mistakes go, this was just about the worst decision the Yankees have made under Brian Cashman's watch.
Acquired CF-L Kenny Lofton from the White Sox for RHP Felix Diaz and LHP Ryan Meaux. [7/28]
Given the Giants' weaknesses and internal options, this was very close to the perfect pickup. Brian Sabean got a good upgrade for center field without giving up any of his best prospects. Kenny Lofton isn't the great player he once was, and he's definitely going to need to have Tsuyoshi Shinjo around as a defensive replacement and to platoon against lefties, but he's a useful leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching (.362 OBP) in a lineup that desperately needs somebody at the top of the order to set up Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent. Tip of the cap to Brian Sabean: he helped his team's future without doing anything that obviously endangers its future.